Roadify Clears Up Confusion on the Streets and Rails

Every commuter wants to find better ways to traverse busy cities. Subway delays and bus route changes may throw carefully timed travel plans into disarray. To ease such headaches, New York startup Roadify has developed a mobile app that delivers updates from transit agencies and input from users on the street.

The app has already won accolades for the one-year-old company. In March, Roadify beat more than fifty other developers to win the grand prize—which included $10,000 cash—at the NYC BigApps 2011 competition. The program, sponsored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, invites software developers to create technology that improves life in the city. Judges of this year’s competition included Dawn Barber, co-founder of NY Tech Meetup; Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter; and Fred Wilson, managing partner of Union Square Ventures.

Roadify currently provides real-time information on commuting routes just in the New York area, though the company plans to expand its services to other locations. Scott Kolber, chief operating officer with Roadify, says while transit information is typically available to the public, it is often scattered across multiple sources. Roadify collects data from entities such as Google Transit, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the New York Department of Transportation into one platform that can be customized for each user. For example, Roadify can post alerts if there is a service change on a specific subway line. “People want to know what’s going on,” Kolber says. “When is the bus coming? Why is there a train delay? Which bridge or tunnel should I take?”

Kolber says readily available data on traffic from city agencies is vital to the app, but Roadify also crowdsources information from users on the street. When users post the actual arrival times of buses at their stops, for example, they alert others on that same route of potential delays. Kolber expects New York buses to have real-time GPS tracking installed in the next few years, which would reduce reliance on user updates. Roadify is free and currently available for the iPhone with an Android version due later this year.

The idea behind Roadify began with a familiar struggle in city life: the hunt for parking. Kolber says Roadify’s founder Nick Nyhan, who is also chief digital officer for Kantar, started a text-based service on the side to exchange parking information via cell phones with other locals in his neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn. That led Nyhan to explore other data sources for mass transit updates.

Roadify incorporated in March 2010 and initially offered the text-based parking-space information. Last October, the first version of the iPhone app was released with bus schedules and other location information. Kolber became aware of Roadify first as a user and then met Nyhan and the development team. After a few months of conversation, Kolber took on a development role with the company that led to the chief operating officer position. “A big part of my focus at the moment is fundraising,” Kolber says.

Kolber says Nyhan is the primary funder for Roadify thus far. “There are a few other investors from the digital and data world,” Kolber says, but he would not disclose their names. He says the company plans to pursue a series A funding round in the fall. He believes winning this year’s BigApps competition may help Roadify attract more funding. “People know about us when we go to talk to investors,” he says.

(left to right) Mayor Bloomberg presents the 2011 BigApps grand prize to Roadify team members Dylan Goelz, Brian Bush, Dan Robinson, and Scott Kolber, with competition host Brandon Kessler of ChallengePost. Photo courtesy of NYCEDC/Matt Sudol

Though Kolber devotes most of his time to Roadify, Nyhan retains his full-time job at Kantar, the market research division of communications services group WPP. Nyhan previously founded Dynamic Logic, a digital advertising research company that is now part of the Millward Brown research agency within Kantar.

Kolber worked for more than a decade at Viacom, helping launch syndicated television shows and developing satellite distribution strategies for MTV Networks. “I was part of the team that helped MTV expand internationally,” he says. He later worked as director of business development for satellite manufacturer and operator Loral Space & Communications. He also served as senior vice president of business development for Linkstorm, an online advertising technology company in New York.

Roadify has a staff of five, and Kolber says the company plans to expand, particularly on the technology front. “We need more data experts; as we grow we’re going to be dealing with massive amounts of data,” he says. The company also wants to hire professionals in audience development to grow the user base. Kolber says with new funding the company will expand its services into new geographic markets. “We now have the ability to ingest a lot more data [from] around the country and the world,” he says.

Kolber says Roadify wants to find ways to monetize its user base, which could include partnering with location-based advertisers and marketers. “We want to tap into the fact we know where our users are,” he says. Such partnerships could, for example, offer coupons for a latté at a nearby coffee shop if the bus a user is waiting for is running late. “You could walk across the street, pay for it with a mobile payment service, and still make your bus,” Kolber says.

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